Opinion: A Tale of Two Cities: Misurata and Tawergha - By Gada Mahfud 18/03/2012 11:45:00
Misurata and Tawergha are two neighbouring cities that have coexisted for centuries in peace and harmony. Misurata, the third largest city in Libya is the richer of the two due to its location, on the sea front with a large harbour that does trade with the four corners of the earth.
Tawergha is a small town just east of Misurata. It has always been the main source of labour for the industrial hub that is Misurata. In short these two cities have always complemented each other. Both cities had mutual respect for what the other brought to the table.
Sometimes we would hear of disagreements and grudges between cities about borders or some other issue. This was never the case in the Misurata-Tawergha case. They were the perfect match; exemplary neighbours until the Libyan uprising in February 2011. Then everything changed and the life time friendships were abruptly abandoned!
So how did the good neighbours become fierce enemies, and what has led to this drastic change of sentiment?
When Misurata declared its support for the Libyan uprising that erupted in Benghazi on February 17, last year, Misurata instantly became the front line of the revolution. Gaddafi recognised that his survival depended on him reclaiming Misurata from the grasp of the revolution. So he instructed his militias to destroy Misurata.
Gaddafi wanted to insure that the siege around Misurata was airtight, and that it was not going to receive any lifelines from its neighbours. Therefore, he set to work on recruiting neighbouring cities and enlisting their support.
The attack Gaddafi’s war machine launched on Misurata was truly horrendous. Indiscriminate shelling on civilians caused the death toll to rise exponentially. Such destruction was only possible due to the cooperation of nearby towns like Tawergha.
Observers thought the shelling was bad, but what was to occur next was infinitely even worse because when Gaddafi’s militias entered Misurata from the west. Tawergha groups described as volunteers because they never had formal military training, entered Misurata from the east. Gaddafi had succeeded in enlisting the assistance of the majority of the Tawergha residents.
From first hand witness accounts I myself managed to get, Tawergha was involved in full capacity in the attack against Misurata and its citizens. Women accompanied the men, snatched the jewellery off Misurata women and searched homes for valuables. Old men and women cheered on as their sons were on their way to conquering Misurata.
Tawerghan men robbed homes, killed and stole livestock, vandalised properties and sometimes even set them on fire. But worst of all Tawerghans were involved in rapes that were filmed on mobile phones found on dead Tawerghan men.
In a conservative society like Libya rape is just as bad if not worse than murder and though vandalism and robbery are not easily forgotten or forgiven it is the rapes with the documented proof of the perpetrators that have made the tale of these two cities what it is.
In the end Misurata succeeded in defeating the Gaddafi war machine. As soon as that happened Tawergha residents fled their town because they knew that they were bound to face the wrath of the Misurata residents for their part in what Misurata had to endure.
Tawergha has lived to regret two decisions it made, namely, its willing participation in Gaddafi’s attack on its neighbour, and secondly the voluntary evacuation of their homes to avoid the wrath from Misurata once Gaddafi’s army was defeated.
Tawergha residents were not chased out of town but they were never permitted to return. It has become a ghost town since the flight of its residents, who have taken refuge in temporary shelters in Tripoli and Benghazi.
Tawergha residents have made many attempts through the NTC and tribal elders from different parts of the country to represent them and to plead their case for their return. All attempts have proven futile.
Misurata residents were adamant in refusing the Tawerghans permission for their return, on the grounds that the trust that once existed between them has been shattered, and without that trust they cannot go back to being neighbours.
Tawergha residents contacted the media and different human rights organisations in an attempt to raise awareness of their plight. They gave a flawed account of the events that led to the evacuation of their homes and refused to admit their guilt to what transpired during Gaddafi’s medieval siege on Misurata.
They failed to shoulder the responsibility for the crimes that were committed. They alleged they were being chased away from their homes on racial grounds. That is an absurd accusation to make. Tawergha residents have never made such allegations in the past, therefore why should Misurata suddenly adopt a racist view of Tawergha now?
The fact is that if there was any racist tensions it was solely on the Tawergha side because it was its residents who targeted Misurata's residents; and yes, that might have been racially motivated.
Since the liberation, some Misurata youths have vented their anger by vandalising Tawergha properties, which is shameful behaviour that should not be tolerated by the government.
There have also been reports of Misurata-based militias breaking into Tawergha camps, for reasons that are unclear. Was it to terrorise the Tawerghans by way of revenge, or to try and find some of the rapists that are still going free. Such break-ins are illegal and should be stopped.
Recently, progress was registered in that some Tawerghans made some form of an apology to Misurata for all the wrongs that were committed against them during the conflict. It was the first time that Tawergha made such a gesture of accepting their responsibility in what transpired.
It is a positive step in the right direction. But it is only a beginning. This should be followed by Tawerghans handing Misurata the list of Tawergha 'volunteers' made up of some 8,000 men and 1,500 women who took part in acts of aggression against Misurata.
What was so infuriating in all this dismal business is the willingness of the press to believe that Tawergha was being targeted for racially motivated reasons, therefore unleashing a new problem to add to the existing ones.
These claims were reported by the international press without corroboration of evidence and further investigation. This is sensationalism journalism at its worst, aimed at sell the paper, and to hell with the people involved.
Of course it goes without saying that both the National Transitional Council, NTC, and the transitional government have failed miserably in mediating in this issue and have left it to fester and grow out of all proportion. The blame game is just a waste of time and energy; so what could be the solution to this dilemma?
Misurata claims the irreparable damages caused by Tawergha should be punished by banishing Tawerghans. But where should they go if they are not allowed back to their homes? Tawergha claims that though it has recently acknowledged its part in the blame and the crimes committed in Misurata, it is not fair to punish the whole population of the town for crimes committed by the few or the many, no matter how many they may be.
In my opinion the solution is two-fold. After complying to Misurata’s demands that guilty parties should face justice, Misurata should accept the return of the rest of the Tawerghan population, else, the transitional government should relocate Tawergha’s population.
For some, such relocation would appear to be extreme measures. But then we are in an extreme situation.
I am fully aware that both solutions have their pros and cons. For instance the first solution is good because all the innocent displaced people can return to their homes once the guilty parties are handed to the authorities.
But this is less than perfect. Because of the proximity of the two cities, and with the return of Tawerghans, it is inevitable that friction between the two cities would still exist, and the results could be explosive to say the least; and the country could do with less explosive situations.
The other solution involves the relocation of a population of around 15,000. I have my doubts if the transitional government can cope with a relocation of this size.
Gaddafi has been dead and buried for four months, but the traps he laid for Libyan society are yet to overcome, and the legacy of hate his ego has created between these two cities, is very much alive.
Comment: Forgive and forget in God name,Peace to all
Date: 18/03/2012 14:22:37
Comment: The writer has honestly and truely described the situation. It is an unbiased and detailed account of the nature of the problem. I live in Zliten which is 50 Kg to the west of Misrata and I have many friends in Misrata. When I speak with them, I blame them and defend the right of the Tawaraghns to return. And I always say that do not punish the innocent for what the criminals do.
But the Tawarghns refuse to hand in the criminals. When Zliten was liberated, the Zliten revolutionaries handed in all Zliten criminals who took part in any criminal act against Misrata. Proudly, I would like to say that some Zliten revolutionaries handed in their brothers and relatives.
If the Libyans have shared paying the price for liberating Libya, the biggest share was paid by Misrata. This statement is taken from an article I have written on Misrata.
There are horrible and sad stories that were documented. Many from Tawarhga got involved in criminal acts against Misratans. Men were detained, killed and imprisoned and women were humiliated and raped at the hands of Tawaraghns. Cows and horses were hanged; some are race horses and are therefore very expensive. Farmlands and buildings were destroyed out of revenge, but for what?!
Gaddafi deceived the Tawarghans by saying to them that Misrata would be your own land and Gaddafi intended to wipe it off the map. Some Tawarghans started dividing large farms owned by Misratans among them as their new owners. That does not please Allah and this is not what one would expect from an old neighbor.
Two weeks ago, I and my family visited a friend in Misrata. We were students in the Uk. He fears Allah and can be trusted. He told me about many stories of revenge. One is about a Misratan who was capured by a group of pro-Gaddafi Tawaraghns. He was imprisoned and later torture sections started. By chance, he met in his prison a Tawraghans that he knew so he got happy and thought that he would be allowed out. But the guy he knew spat at him and asked for severely punishing and torturing that Misratan
Some Misratns are mistaken for attacking the camps of the displaced Tawaraghns. For whatever reason, they should behave well and respect humans. The government has to activate the institutions of justice and the rule of law has to prevail.
The real solution to the Misratans-Tawargha disputes is to keep the Misrtans away from that problem and the GOVERMENT has to take full responsibility of investigating the case and punishing the criminals who are set free. The NTC has done little. I am sure that if the goveremnt plays that role as a biased party, all will be happy. It is always nice to forgive whenever possible and if the sin is forgivable.
The international Media and the whole world have to understand that something wrong has happened and we have been suffering from the consquences. From the bottom of my heart, I wish such an article could be sent to CNN, BBC, and all media especially those ignoring the suffering of others.
We should still believe that there are many innocent Tawranans that we need to welcome and not to punish collectively for crimes that they have never committed. In the new libya, we must not act like Gaddafi.
Date: 18/03/2012 20:28:34
Comment: An interesting piece to go through. The solution given by the writer is pragmatic, i.e., to allow the innocent to return while the guilty must be punished.
Date: 19/03/2012 13:07:10
Comment: That is a very well researched article. I have no doubt that it is all true what some of the Tawerghans did to their neighbours of Misurata and what the Misuratans went through. Relatives of mine have suffered under their hands and because of the Tawerghans. But though I will never forget what they have done, we need to push on.
In order to have a future and to take advantage of the revolution that rid us of a most brutal dictator, we must try once again to live in a community. We should never forget that we are all Libyans.
Though I would never, and nobody should condone what the Tawerghans did, we have to keep in mind that NOT ALL OF THEM were to blame. Others may have also been led to believe that it was the right thing to do by the Gaddafi regime; or for fear of reprisals, perhaps even to protect their families from the dictatorial regime.
My advice is to forgive and forget. It is not easy I know. But we must live as brothers again for if we don't we will never live in peace again.
Those guilty of the atrocities must be brought to justice, of course, but please let us also give the benefit of the doubt to the many who did not take part in such acts. We should not keep on blaming all the Tawerghans or any people other people in other towns who were forced to follow the Gaddafi regime.
Gada's article is one of the best I have read online, but I don't agree about one of the solutions proposed by the writer, that the entire Tawergha population could be relocated.
The Misuratans should give an example of reconciliation. The need to accept the return of the Tawerghan population to their homes. In time we could all become Libyan brothers again and work towards rebuilding our country on love and peace. We must direct our attentions and our efforts towards a new beginning. This love of each other, and not hatred can help us along.
Otherwise the February 17 revolution would have been for nothing.
Again thank you for give us the chance to think with such articles. I hope that many others give their honest opinion.
Date: 19/03/2012 14:07:08
Comment: Hand over is a better phrasal verb than hand in, Torture sessions, not torture sections, Detained is the same as imprisoned so one in the same sentence is fine, as an unbiased party, but biaseda I have spelling mistakes: Misrata and Tawargha, Misratan and Tawarghan are
Date: 21/03/2012 08:21:43
Comment: Thank you all for the positive feed back the tale of these two cities has been a source of great concern to me,I have tried to be unbiased in stating the facts and yes Misurata have to continue to be brave and wise and show that they are not just winners in war but also in peace because unfortunately what was done cannot be undone and life goes on.We are in a very decisive phase of shaping our country and dangers of all kinds lurk to put a stop to our new found freedom.So we cannot afford to be distracted by other matters.
Name:mirella a sehl
Date: 28/08/2012 01:01:45
Comment: AN ARTICLE THAT LEFT ME SPEECHLESS, HOW CAN ONE OF THE RFEADER SUGGESTS TO FORGIVE AND FORGET? FORGIVENESS IS A HEALTHY CHOICE, , BUT FORGET SUCH A GENOCIDE?? iT IS AN INSULT TO THE VICTIMS AND THEIR FAMILIES.
Date: 30/01/2013 04:01:32
Comment: From south america: Never forget, to never repeat that kind of atrocities
Good luck and peace for all Lybia's people!
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